Take this simple quiz to find out!
1) When you meet people for the first time, do you (a) silently psychoanalyze them; (b) judge whether the colors they are wearing make them look lively or washed out; (c) ask questions about what kind of climate and terrain they prefer; or (d) imagine what they would look like with fangs?
2) This crazy world did not make a whole lot of sense until you realized that (a) you can understand everything about anyone out just by asking them ten simple questions; (b) certain people simply should not wear green; (c) regional stereotypes are both useful and reliable; or (d) immortal superbeings are constantly warring over the attentions of vain teenage girls.
3) Which set of words would your friends say you cannot live without? (a) Adventurous, moody, leader, trendy; (b) Flair, accessory, sophisticated, trendy; (c) Hustle-and-bustle, rustic, coast, trendy; or (d) Passionate, undying, inexplicable, formerly trendy.
*Scoring: If you picked (a) most often, you are a personality quiz. If you picked (b) most often, you are a fashion quiz. If you picked (c) most often, you are a “Where should you live?” quiz. If you picked (d) most often, you are a “Which Twilight character are you?” quiz.
What is it about humans that makes us want to take these kinds of quizzes? I cannot get through a day without encountering some kind of test – through social media or in a magazine or via e-mail – that purports to tell me something I did not know about myself. They are usually right about the last bit. For example, in the past few weeks, I discovered, much to my surprise, that I am essentially a hybrid of Sam the Eagle (the Muppet) and Queen Amidala (from Star Wars) and that I should be living in Pennsylvania because I am so popular. All of that was a surprise to me.
I cannot see how anyone can take these quizzes seriously. The questions are loony, and what kind of authority do the test creators possess? I always imagine a couple of twenty-somethings just making stuff up, like: “Let’s ask, um, what kind of toothpaste do you use? And . . . if you were a halogen, which one would you be?” Plus, the results are always phrased as if they are really positive, no matter what the outcome: “The Historical World Leader you are most like is . . . Josef Stalin! Like Clark Kent, you’re a ‘Man of Steel’ with powers far beyond those of ordinary mortals! You’re a visionary who likes to make 5-year plans, and you know that what other people consider ‘paranoia’ is really just prudence . . .”
Those vague but vaguely positive pronouncements remind me of horoscopes, and perhaps, in a world where the influence of stars and planets has been supplanted by electrons and wifi, these quizzes are the modern equivalent. Some people take them very seriously, but most people seem to think of them as an amusement – until they see something in the results that resonates. Then, just as with horoscopes, there’s an inclination to see them as validation. I know that when I read that Queen Amidala was adventurous and brilliant, part of me said, “Yeah. I can see that in me. These quizzes are so accurate!”
Of course, it’s a lot easier to take a ten-question quiz that tells you you are adventurous and brilliant than it is to actually be adventurous and brilliant. And, in those times in my life that I have been either, I often felt it. I didn’t need a quiz to tell me what I was.
But maybe a quiz can tell you what you could be. Sure, they are mostly just meant to be fun, right? But if you see something in the (surely essentially random) results you receive that reverberates internally, pay attention. Don’t think of it as validation so much as indication. If you like that a quiz describes you as “generous”, for example, don’t take it as proof that you are; take it as a hint that “generous” is something you would like to be. And then go be generous – give your time or your money or your energy to a friend or a worthy cause. If you’re described as a “leader”, and that appeals to you, then go be a leader – volunteer to lead a committee at work, or start a petition for community action. If you think that being described with a certain attribute is satisfying, just wait until you actually develop that attribute. If you believe you have already developed it, keep in mind: it’s not true just because the internet says it’s true. What you are is only true, and only remains true, through your actions.